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UPAVIM Guatemala Tour Part 3: Santiago Atitlan & San Juan La Laguna


Our UPAVIM Guatemala Tour journey continues on Day 4 & 5 with exciting tours of the Guatemalan Highlands including many stops around Lake Atitlan.  

Iximché Tour: Day 4 (Feb. 28, 2024):

UPAVIM Guatemala Tour

Day four was a travel day with various stops exploring the highlands of Guatemala, seeing the sights and breathing in the rich cultural landscape. First stop: Iximché, a pre-Colombian Mesoamerican archaeological site. The architecture of the site includes several of pyramid-temples, palaces, and two Mesoamerican ballcourts. Archaeologists have also found ample evidence of human sacrifice at this site. Iximché is known as the capital of the Late Postclassic Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until 1524. If you'd like to read more, click here to see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

We were lucky to meet a delightful group of local women who were enjoying the day at the park.  Everyone was eager to swap photos - look at those twins!  


By afternoon, the tour reached Panajachel, the gateway city to Lake Atitlán.  Lake Atitlán is a caldera, a bowl-shaped crater-like geographic feature that is the remnant of a collapsed volcano, which itself is surrounded by volcanoes (which makes for some breathtaking sightseeing). In Panajachel we toured the famous artisan shops and took in incredible views of the lake. 

Lake Atitlan 

 The day ended at our hotel, Hotel Las Terrazas, en San Antonio Palapo.  

Santiago Atitlan & San Juan La Laguna Tour: Day 5 (Feb. 29, 2024):

Day 5 began with a trip across the lake to visit Santiago de Atitlan and San Juan De Laguna.  The group embarked on a eye-opening boat cruise across Lake Atitlán, breathing in the historic volcanic landscapes that create and surround the lake.

Our first stop was a visit to Diego and Raquel, our woodworking partners, at their workshop. The travelers see firsthand the techniques and mastery used to create our fine wood products, as well as get to know the lovely couple that creates them.

Diego carves all of our lovely wood items, like the Wooden Leaf Spoon he's holding on the left and the various Wood Kitchen items on the right; and Raquel coats the finished products with organic Tung Oil to protect the wood, as she's seen doing with the Wood Salad Server on the right.

Raquel, is also a skilled embroiderer of hand-sewn birds adorning her traditional Mayan huipiles (shirts). During an exposition, she shared a brief history of how traditional sewing patterns have evolved over time on local Mayan women's clothing. What once started as simple depictions of small birds and plants has transformed into intricately embroidered scenes of lush forests and realistic birds. Raquel explained that this evolution is influenced by the changing fashion preferences of young women and the introduction of bird imagery through guidebooks and other media, enabling artists like herself to accurately depict local avian species in their embroidery. 


Santiago de Atitlan Weaving Santiago Atitlan Huipile

Santiago de Atitlan Huipile Old Style
Following the wood workshop, our journey led us to the home of our local guide for the day, Don Juan Diego, where we had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Francisca, an expert artist. Francisca's talent shines through in her intricate drawings of local birds and flowers, which she draws directly on woven huipiles. Her creations serve as a guide for many local Mayan women, who purchase them to aid in hand-embroidering figures onto their cherished huipiles.  Additionally, Kathi, a member of our tour, had the opportunity to try on Francisca's clothing, and it fit her perfectly, adding an extra touch of magic to our experience.
Santiago Atitlan Mayan Women Francisca Santiago Atitlan Weaving Tour
I would highly recommend Juan Diego's English speaking tour services in any future Guatemala tour needs.  Please visit him on instagram @tour_guideatitlanjd. 
After a fulfilling morning, we hopped back on the boat and set course for San Juan La Laguna, where we enjoyed a delightful lunch Guatemala Pepianand a brief bird-watching tour. San Juan La Laguna buzzes with activity, and our local guide shared an interesting tidbit: during the COVID-19 pandemic, the local mayor initiated a tourism plan that involved adorning the town's streets with vibrant paint and street decorations such as lanterns, umbrellas, and even hats, each reflecting the unique character of its street. ThSan Juan La Laguna Touris initiative not only revitalized the town but also sparked investments in local art, transforming San Juan La Laguna into a bustling tourist hotspot on Lake Atitlan.  We agree that it is beautiful.  
Juan Diego led us to the Cafe San Juan store for a coffee tour.  The tour included tasting ripe coffee cherries ready to harvest. Did you know that coffee aren't actually beans - they're the dried and cleaned pits of coffee cherries! Farmers harvest the cherries once ripe, clean them of the fruit skin and pulp, dry them, and then the beans are roasted to get that quintessential brown color and nutty aroma we all recognize. At the end, we see the life cycle of the coffee bean: cleaned, dried, roasted, and finally ground for our pleasure.




Compliments to Cafe San Juan - click here to peruse their website, and maybe find that perfect brew for you.

Finally, we visited a local women's weaving coopera tive.  San Juan weavers take pride in maintaining traditional weaving traditions including natural dyes and hand spun cotton. We were able to see their demonstration of spinning cotton to form yarn, dyeing the cotton threads with natural dyes, and backstrap weaving.  Isn't it incredible how natural materials produce such vibrant colors?
At the end of a busy day, we take a little more free time in San Juan la Laguna before we returned to San Antonio Palopó for the evening.